Event — Buddhist Studies Lectures

The Buddha’s Prophecy on the Nuns and the End of the Dharma: Misogyny, Eschatology and Scriptural Formation at the Dawn of Late Antiquity

A lecture by Antonello Palumbo, Substitute Professor of Buddhist Studies at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University.

This talk takes place in the IIAS Conference room from 16:00 - 17:00 p.m. (It will not be streamed online.)

Everyone is welcome to attend; we kindly ask you to register, as seating is limited.


The Lecture

According to a famous canonical account—preserved in Pāli in the Vinaya-piaka (Cullavagga) and in the Aguttara-nikāya of the Theravāda, with several parallel versions from other schools in Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan—the Buddha did not want women in the monastic community. Following repeated requests from his aunt and foster-mother Mahāpājapatī Gotamī (Skt. Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī), and the intercession of his leading disciple Ānanda, he eventually gave his consent, but only reluctantly: he imposed harsher disciplinary rules on women (the so-called eight garudhammas/gurudharmas or ‘heavy rules’), and prophesied that their admission into the sagha would reduce the duration of the Buddhist Law by half, from one thousand to five hundred years. While this account has been accepted as the Buddha’s word in many Buddhist traditions, its origins and historical significance have been intensely debated in recent scholarship—not so far, however, as to question its alleged antiquity. This lecture will revisit the textual construction of the Gautamī narrative, with a focus on its professed misogyny and its peculiar prophecy on the end of the Dharma. Neither makes sense in the light of what we know about the first centuries of Buddhist history. A plausible context for both will be found instead in the cultural climate of the Kushana period (first to third centuries AD), with significant parallels in other parts of the Old World. The implications of this scenario will be briefly assessed in the conclusions.

The Speaker

Antonello Palumbo is currently Substitute Professor of Buddhist Studies at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University. From 2005 to 2020 he was first Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in the Religions of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He subsequently was a researcher in the ERC project ‘Open Philology: The Composition of Buddhist Scriptures’ at Leiden University, Institute for Area Studies (2021), Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in East Asian Studies at Yale University (2021/22), and a Senior Fellow at the IKGF, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen (2022/23). He studied in China (Peking University), Italy (where he holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from the former Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples) and Japan (Kyoto University). His research has covered several aspects of the religious, social and political history of premodern China in its connections to the Old World system, and with a special focus on Buddhism. He is the author of An Early Chinese Commentary on the Ekottarika-āgama: The Fenbie gongde lun 分別功德論 and the History of the Translation of the Zengyi ahan jing 增一阿含經 (Taipei: Fagu Wenhua, 2013) and of many articles and essays.

Buddhist Studies Lecture Series

This is a lecture in the framework of the Buddhist Studies Lectures Series, jointly organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).


Everyone is welcome to attend, but we kindly ask you to register as seating is limited. Please use the web form on this page.